American Journal of Industrial and Business Management, 2013, 3, 595-600
Published Online November 2013 (
Open Access AJIBM
The Impact of Prevalent Destructive Leadership Behaviour
on Subordinate Employees in a Firm
Tran Quang Yen 1,2*, Yezhuang Tian1, Foday Pinka Sankoh1,3
1School of Management, Harbin Institute of Technology, Harbin, China; 2National Economics University, Hanoi, Vietnam; 3Portloko
Teachers College, Portloko, Sierra Leone.
Email: *
Received August 5th, 2013; revised September 5th, 2013; accepted September 12th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Tran Quang Yen et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License,
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
This paper examines the impact of destructive leadership behaviours experienced by subordinate employees. Structured
questionnaires based on the petty Tyranny in organizations scale to explore the scope and nature of destructive leader-
ship were used. The study further explores the relationship among leadership experiences, various measures of subor-
dinates’ satisfaction and turnover level. The results showed that despite the central role of leadership holds for many
firms in Hanoi, Vietnam, subordinate employees reported experiencing toxic destructive leadership. There was a sig-
nificant negative relationship among destructive leadership, all measures of satisfaction and turnover level. Surprisingly,
there was not a significant negative impact on turnover level (inclination to remain in the employment) among the sub-
ordinate population.
Keywords: Destructive Leadership; Satisfaction; Turnover Level; Petty Tyranny; Subordinate Employee
1. Introduction
1.1. Destructive Leadership Behaviors Directed
at Subordinates
The concept of destructive leadership bahavior has sev-
eral definitions as many researchers exist. Each of them
tried to define this concept based on his orientation. A
common one among them was given by this, “destructive
leadership behavior refers to systematic and repeated
behaviour by a leader, supervisor or manager that vio-
lates the legitimate interest of the organization by un-
dermining and/or sabotaging the organization’s goal,
tasks, resources and effectiveness and/or the motivation,
well-being or job satisfaction of subordinates.” However,
any definition of this concept should consider one or all
of the following: “work place bullying” [1], “verbal
abuse” [2,3], “Petty tyranny” [4], “Abusive managerial
behaviour or supervision” [5], “Intolerable bosses” [6],
“Harassing leaders” [7], “derailed leaders”[8] and “Work
place mistreatment” [9]. The success of an organization
depends on the effectiveness of the leadership behaviour.
If a leader has effective leadership traits and shows nega-
tive leadership behaviour, this might result in negative
effects on not only the organization [10] but to a large
extent on his subordinates. Keashly, Trott and MacLean
(1994) [11] identified two key criteria that help reinforce
destructive leadership behaviors: Environments which
are likely to facilitate toxic leadership, including organi-
sations which are unstable with many perceived threats
and a lack of checks and balances; a culture that allows a
leader to develop a pattern of overt grandiosity, selffo-
cus and self important behavior which is clearly exploita-
tive and sometimes parasitic. Leaders are in a position of
trusting and organizing resources, in effect, without su-
pervision. They also tend to react more strongly to issues
which are likely to have immediate effects, as opposed to
those that will impact in the future. Destructive leader-
ship behavior results do not just come from leaders, but
also their subordinates. A destructive leadership behav-
ior’s degree of selfishness will affect the subordinates,
whose responses constitute a form of feedback that either
moderates or worsens the destructive behavior. Blaming
others for their problems is an approach that some lead-
ers adopt when they lack the necessary ability to lead.
They become suspicious and mistrustful of those who are
bright enough to cope, and become progressively more
paranoid. As this paranoia spirals out of control, their
behavior turns increasingly destructive as they become
*Corresponding author.
The Impact of Prevalent Destructive Leadership Behaviour on Subordinate Employees in a Firm
more argumentative, belligerent, hostile, secretive, stub-
born and consumed by mistrust. Therefore, Burke (2006)
[12] categorized these destructive behaviors into: de-
luded, paranoid, sociopathic and narcissistic. The de-
luded leaders are in denial about themselves, the con-
straints around their work and the details of past occur-
rences. The deluded leaders display destructive behaviors
in their inability to make timely decisions and get things
done most simply. The paranoid leader is suspicious of
others, always ready to fight seeming threats and with
extreme worry for concealed motives and unique mean-
ings. The paranoid leader exhibits destructive behavior
that is characterized by an intense attention to spin, ra-
tionalized by an all-pervading mistrust of others. The
sociopathic leader consistently disregards and violates
other people’s rights. They exhibit destructive behavior
characterized by indifference to having hurt or mistreat-
ing others and a consistent lack of remorse. The narcis-
sistic leader is resistant to change. They know that their
way is best and they have an inability to recognize their
many limitations. The narcissistic leader displays de-
structive behavior that is characterized by a lack of ca-
pacity to learn from others or experience, and a refusal to
take accountability or responsibility. Capable leaders
differ widely in their personalities, strengths, weaknesses,
values and beliefs, but they all have one thing in com-
mon—they get the right things done. In large parts, lead-
ers with destructive leadership behaviors believe they are
special and entitled to more positive outcomes in life
than others, so that they are more intelligent than they
actually are, and they are better in their exertion of power
and dominance than others.
1.2. Effects of Destructive Leadership
It depends on the leader’s level in an organizational hier-
archy; lower ranking leaders have fewer malevolent op-
tions than senior leaders. Think of leaders as existing in
three levels: 1) First line; 2) Middle; 3) Senior. First line
supervisors destroy their teams almost exclusively
through their behavior. There is a reasonably well de-
fined taxonomy of bad managerial behavior captured by
our dark side measure of personality [13]; these behav-
iors include: bullying, harassing, exploiting, lying, be-
traying, manipulating-in short, denying subordinates their
basic humanity. These behaviors alienate the subordi-
nates, who in response, engage in a wide range of passive
and aggressive behaviors that undermine the perform-
ance of the team. They also retaliate actively with law
suits and, at times, direct violence. Destructive leaders at
the second or middle level have at their disposal the full
range of behavioral options just described. In addition,
they can destroy their teams by making bad tactical deci-
sions which are, through exercising bad judgment. The
scope of the damage created by bad tactical decisions is
relatively limited, for example a mid-level manager
routinely overspends the budget. Senior leaders have
much greater discretion to act destructively [14]. They
can avail themselves of the full range of behavioral op-
tions described above-bullying, exploitation, harassment,
etc. In addition, like mid-managers, they are empowered
to make bad tactical decisions. But it is at the level of
strategic decision making that senior managers can be
most destructive, and in ways that vastly exceed the ca-
pacity of lower level managers. The big reason most
people behave badly is that they are self-centered; they
are preoccupied with their own agendas, and unable or
unwilling to consider how their actions might affect oth-
ers [15]. These self-centered focus behaviors are caused
by insecurity and arrogance [16]. People who are inse-
cure lack of confidence and are primarily concerned with
their own psychic survival; they live in a nearly constant
state of panic, and react emotionally to real and imagi-
nary perceived threats. If a subordinate makes a mistake,
it may reflect badly on the “leader”, who then reacts an-
grily and disproportionately to the subordinate’s mistake.
When confronted with data indicating that they have
made bad decisions, they explode and blame the mistake
on external factors [17]. Leaders who are arrogant have
too much confidence, and see others (and especially sub-
ordinates) as objects to be used for their own purposes.
Arrogant leaders feel entitled to exploit and abuse their
subordinates because the subordinates are existentially
unworthy. They are like farm animals that can be
slaughtered for an evening meal. When confronted with
data indicating that they have made bad decisions, they
typically ignore the feedback and say that it is time “to
move on” [18]. In this paper, we begin an exploration of
destructive leadership as experienced by senior and mid-
dle ranked employees in an effort to obtain some quanti-
tative data about the extent of the phenomenon in a lim-
ited, yet important, population. Various demographic
groups would be examined to determine whether experi-
ence with negative leadership behaviour varies across
such groups. The article then describes the fifteen most
frequently experienced negative behaviours before turn-
ing to the relationship among destructive leadership,
subordinate satisfaction and turnover level. Because of
prior focus group research [17], we developed two spe-
cific hypotheses for testing.
Hypothesis 1: An increased level of contact with nega-
tive leadership behaviours will negatively affect subor-
dinates job satisfaction level.
Hypothesis 2: An increased level of contact with nega-
tive leadership behaviours will negatively affect subo-
rdinates turnover level.
2. Methods
2.1 Sample
This study administered structured questionnaires based
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The Impact of Prevalent Destructive Leadership Behaviour on Subordinate Employees in a Firm 597
on Ashforth’s Petty Tyranny in Organizations Scale as
the primary measure of destructive leadership [4]. The
questionnaires were administered to 400 employees from
20 enterprises in Hanoi, Vietnam. These 20 enterprises
were the most highly developed enterprises with many
employees in Hanoi. Only employees with potential for
greater levels of responsibility and thought that they were
treated fairly by their management were selected for the
survey. How ever, there are those in this study that have
an axe to grind due to perceptions of institutional mal-
2.2. Survey Instrument
The questionnaire addressed demographics (race, gender,
service component, pay grade, and years of service), sat-
isfaction with various aspects of the job and relationships
with others, turnover level (inclination to remain in the
job), and specific positive and negative behaviors ex-
perienced in the enterprises. The Petty Tyranny in Or-
ganizations Scale was originally designed to explore as-
pects of ineffective leadership along six dimensions: ar-
bitrariness and self aggrandizement, belittling subordi-
nates, lack of consideration, a forcing style of conflict
resolution, discouraging initiative, and non-contingent
punishment. Ashforth (1994) [4] reported that the mean
correlation between dimensions was 0.58 (p < 0.001),
and inter-rater reliability was r = 0.52, which was com-
parable to other measures of leadership. His description
of the petty tyrant fits the general description of toxic
leaders obtained from other qualitative researches. “They
are unconcerned about, or oblivious to subordinates’
morale and/or climate. They are seen by the majority of
subordinates as arrogant, self-serving, inflexible, and
petty” [17]. The questionnaire consist of forty-five ques-
tions which compose the Petty Tyranny in Organizations
Scale addressed specific behaviors over a delimited time
frame such as, “how often were you in circumstances
where a superior belittled or embarrassed subordinates?”
Participants indicated frequency of experience by select-
ing from five options ranging from very seldom to very
often. A number of questions were reverse-coded to ex-
press positive leadership behaviors such as, “encouraged
subordinates to speak up when they disagreed with a de-
cision.” The use of this scale resulted in a measure of
destructive leadership that provided a continuous vari-
able that ranged from 50 to 400, suitable for a variety of
common statistical analyses. Demographics were in-
cluded to determine whether the phenomenon of destruc-
tive leadership varies by group membership. Of particu-
lar interest was the degree to which experience with de-
structive leadership varies by race, gender, and branch of
service. The eight questions about satisfaction served as
an impact variable. They asked participants to indicate
their levels of satisfaction on a 5-point Likert type scale
ranging from very dissatisfied to very satisfied. The
questionnaire also asked respondents to indicate whether
they had experience with multi-rater feedback tools and
asked them to indicate their level of satisfaction with
360-degree assessment instruments. Of specific interest
was the level of satisfaction with direction and supervi-
sion received and relationships with coworkers and peers,
superiors, and subordinates as well as overall satisfaction
with the work that they did and their job as a whole. As
another form of impact variable, participants were asked
to suppose that they needed to decide whether to remain
in the service or not. Assuming that they could remain,
and they were under no service obligation and eligible
for retirement, they were asked to indicate the likelihood
that they would remain in service on a 5-point scale (very
unlikely to very likely). We asked respondents to indicate
whether they seriously considered leaving their enter-
prises because of the way they were treated by a super-
visor. A series of follow-up questions about the supervi-
sor and situation were included in an effort to identify
particularly problematic or frequent behaviors that caused
the respondent to consider leaving the job.
2.3. Data Analysis
We used both descriptive and inferential statistics to
analyze the data and test hypotheses including percent-
ages, analysis of variance, correlation, and regression.
The scale data were ordinal, yet we treated them as con-
tinuous for the purpose of our analysis because the Petty
Tyranny in Organizations Scale and Satisfaction Scale
produce quantitative discrete ordinal variables with a
sufficiently wide range of values [19]. Most of the demo-
graphics were categorical. We used analysis of variance
to determine if experiences with destructive leadership
varied by demographic categories. Correlations were
used to determine the significance of associations be-
tween destructive leadership and satisfaction and turn-
over level (inclination to remain in the job). Regression
analyses were used to identify the impact of destructive
leadership on subordinates’ satisfaction and turnover
level (inclination to remain in the job).
3. Results and Discussion
3.1. Demographics
Of those who participated in the study, 80 percent were
male and 20 percent were female. Most of the respon-
dents were middle level employees (89 percent), but 11
percent were senior level workforce. All respondents
were in the grades of O5 (middle level 48 percent), O6
(senior level, 5 percent), and GS-14 (lower level, 47 per-
cent), and Time in service ranged from five years (2 per-
cent) to more than Twenty years (15 percent) with a
mode of twelve years (21 percent). Whites (Vietnamese)
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The Impact of Prevalent Destructive Leadership Behaviour on Subordinate Employees in a Firm
constituted 89 percent of respondents, whites (non-Viet-
namese) 7 percent, and 3 percent Africans.
3.2. Experiences with Destructive Leadership
All respondents indicated some experience with destruc-
tive leadership behaviors. When asked whether they se-
riously considered leaving their employment due to
treatment at the hands of a superior, 274 (68.4 percent)
answered yes. Of those, when asked how long ago the
incident occurred that caused them to consider leaving,
17.7 percent indicated that it occurred recently (less than
one year ago), 32.3 percent said that the incident oc-
curred one to three years prior, 13.5 percent indicated
three to five years prior, and 36.5 percent pointed to an
incident that occurred more than five years ago. Analysis
of the Petty Tyranny in Organizations Scale indicated
insignificant differences with regard to experiences with
destructive leadership on the basis of gender, branch of
employment, and race. Senior level respondents reported
experiencing less destructive leadership (M = 116.2, SD
= 45) than did their middle level counterparts (M = 147.6,
SD = 52.7) and lower level counterparts (M = 113.4, SD
= 45). The difference between components were signifi-
cant (F = 7.503, p = 0.007). Also, senior level respon-
dents reported experiencing less destructive leadership
(M = 113.4, SD = 45) than did those in the lower level
(M = 134, SD = 43.2). The differences between compo-
nents were significant (F = 3.93, p = 0.010). Similarly,
middle level respondents in O5 grade experienced more
destructive leadership from superiors (M = 119.5, SD =
45.2) than did senior level at the grade of O6 (M = 113.3,
SD = 44.9). Also, lower level respondents in the grade of
GS-14 experienced more destructive leadership (M =
153.5, SD = 52.2) than did those in the grade of 05 (M =
142.8, SD = 55.4). Differences by pay grade were sig-
nificant (F = 2.790, p = 0.042); however, post hoc testing
indicates that most of the variance in pay grade is ac-
counted for by the difference between the different levels
of employment. Table 1 shows the most frequently ex-
perienced negative leadership behaviors. The list reflects
most of constructs that Ashforth suggested were part of
petty tyranny in organizations with one notable exception.
There were few responses indicating a problem with
non-contingent punishment.
3.3. Satisfaction
Our indicators of satisfaction consisted of eight Likert-
type 5-point questions ranging from very dissatisfied (1)
to very satisfied (5). Three of the questions addressed the
level of satisfaction with relationships such as with co-
workers, supervisors, and subordinates. They were also
asked to indicate satisfaction with pay and benefits as
well as promotion opportunities. One question asked
how satisfied they were with the kind of direction they
received from superiors, and there were two general
questions relating to satisfaction. One addressed satisfac-
tion with the kind of work they do, and another asked
how satisfied they were with their job as a whole. As one
would expect, this group of senior level employees indi-
cated a generally high satisfaction level. As indicated in
Table 2, the lowest levels of satisfaction were with the
kind of direction they received from superiors, pay and
benefits, and relationships with supervisors. By combin-
ing the numerical values of the questions relating to sat-
isfaction, we obtained a numerical scale that reflects a
combined measure of satisfaction level. Chronbach’s
alpha is a statistical test that measures the degree of in-
Table 1. Top fifteen most frequently experienced negative
leadership behaviours.
Behavior Mean
Played favorites 2.42 1.23
Relied on authority 2.32 1.11
Imposed his or her solution 2.23 1.24
Guarded turf against outsiders 2.23 1.25
Lost temper 2.12 1.02
Insisted on one solution 2.02 1.17
Administered policies unfairly 2.00 1.05
Forced acceptance of his or her point of view 1.98 1.19
Would not take no for an answer 1.98 1.23
Treated subordinates in condescending manner 1.97 1.16
Demanded to get his or her way 1.92 1.16
Show off, bragged or boasted 1.89 1.13
Criticized subordinates in front of others 1.89 1.09
Delegated work he or she did not want 1.84 1.05
Claimed credit for the work of others 1.77 1.10
Note: N = 400.
Table 2. Areas of satisfaction.
Question MeanSD
How satisfied with subordinate relationships? 4.45 0.634
How satisfied with co worker relationships? 4.41 0.571
How satisfied with the job as a whole? 4.21 0.719
How satisfied with the work you do? 4.21 0.774
How satisfied with promotion opportunities? 4.10 0.883
How satisfied with supervisor relationship? 4.03 0.914
How satisfied with pay/benefits? 3.97 0.741
How satisfied with the recerved
direction form superiors? 3.83 0.912
Note: N = 400; SD = Standard deviation.
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The Impact of Prevalent Destructive Leadership Behaviour on Subordinate Employees in a Firm 599
ternal consistency or, in other words, how well a number
of items represent a single construct. The Satisfaction
Scale showed a high degree of internal consistency with
a Chronbach’s alpha of 0.805. The question relating to
satisfaction with direction of superiors was removed
from the scale because of excessive inter-item correlation
with the question about satisfaction with supervisor rela-
tionships. Only 5 of the 400 respondents indicated that it
was highly unlikely that he or she would remain in the
job. Surprisingly, 43.2 percent said that they were not
inclined to remain, and 10.9 percent indicated a neutral
opinion on the question. Most, however, said that it was
likely that they would not remain in the employment (N
= 252, 63 percent), while 148 (37 percent) indicated it
was very likely they would remain in the employment.
3.4. Relationships between Experience with
Destructive Leadership, Satisfaction,
and Turnover Level (Inclination to
Remain in the Job)
To examine the relationship between experience with
destructive leadership and satisfaction, a series of simple
linear regressions were performed that indicated destruc-
tive leadership was significantly correlated with all the
satisfaction variables. A linear regression was also per-
formed using the results of the Petty Tyranny in Organi-
zations Scale as the independent variable and the Satis-
faction Scale as the dependent variable. The results dis-
played in Table 3 indicate that experience with destruc-
tive leadership was a significant predictor of dissatisfac-
tion. Table 4 indicates that the leadership style experi-
enced remained a significant predictor of satisfaction
even after component status (active service) and pay
grade were added to the model. Collinearity diagnostics
confirmed that fit of the model was not affected by multi-
collinearity. Based on these findings, we can state that
there is sufficient evidence to suggest that an increased
level of contact with negative leadership behaviors will
negatively affect middle level workers’ job satisfaction
(hypothesis 1). We then conducted a logistic regression
that examined the relationship between several inde-
pendent variables (active status, pay grade, and destruct-
tive leadership) and inclination to remain in the job as the
dependent variable (Table 5). This analysis indicates that
there is insufficient evidence to accept hypothesis 2.
There is insufficient evidence to suggest that an in-
creased level of contact with negative leadership behave-
iors will negatively affect the inclination of middle level
employees to remain in the job.
4. Conclusion
As anticipated, we found that members of this population
reported experience with a range of leadership styles and
Table 3. Regression indicating the relationship of destruc-
tive leadership experience (petty tyranny) to satisfaction
Variable RC SE SC P
Petty tyranny0.034 0.691 0.439 0.000
Constant 33.48
Note: N = 400; R2 = 0.192; RC = Regression coefficient (Not standardized);
SE = Standard Error; SC = Standardized Coefficient; p = probability.
Table 4. Regression indicating the relationship of destruc-
tive leadership experience (petty tyranny), component sta-
tus, and pay grade to satisfaction level.
Variable RC SE SC P
Petty tyranny 0.034 0.006 0.437 0.000
Component statues 0.34 0.828 0.031 0.682
Pay grade 0.473 0.521 0.068 0.365
Constant 31.856
Note: N = 400; R2 = 0.196; RC = Regression coefficient (Not standardized);
SE = Standard Error; SC = Standardized Coefficient; p = probability.
Table 5. Logistic regression of destructive leadership ex-
perience, component status, and pay grade as a predictor of
likelihood to remain in service.
VariableRC SE W P EOR CI
Petty tyranny0.0050.0060.819 0.366 1.005 0.994 - 1.016
statues 0.8751.0830.652 0.419 0.417 0.050 - 3.482
Pay grade0.2160.5560.151 0.698 0.806 0.271 - 2.398
Constant 1.830
Note: N = 400; RC = Regression coefficient (Not standardized); SE = Stan-
dard Error; W = Wald; OER = Estimated Odds Ratio; CI = Confidence
Intervals (odds); p = probability.
behaviors. They were no strangers to destructive leader-
ship styles, and all experienced at least some of the nega-
tive behaviors included in Ashforth’s Petty Tyranny in
Organization scale. Because employees at the senior lev-
el reported less destructive behaviour than the middle
level employees, and because employees in the middle
level experienced less destructive behaviour than the
lower level employees, there is some support for the as-
sertion of an inverse relationship between destructive
leadership and job position. In terms of the type of de-
structive leadership that was most frequently experienced
by employees, we saw the evidence of many, but not all,
of Ashforth’s six dimensions of petty tyranny: arbitrari-
ness and self-aggrandizement, belittling subordinates,
lack of consideration, a forcing style of conflict resolu-
tion, discouraging initiative, and noncontingent punish-
ment. Although we expected that experience with de-
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The Impact of Prevalent Destructive Leadership Behaviour on Subordinate Employees in a Firm
Open Access AJIBM
structive leadership would negatively impact inclination
to remain in the service, we were unable to find support
for this hypothesis. This study examined the impact of
destructive leadership in a narrow sense. Our impact va-
riables were limited to satisfaction and turnover level
(inclination to remain in the services of the employer).
Therefore, there is a need for additional research to deter-
mine if there are other negative impacts of destructive
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